28 Straight Days: A Challenge To Eat Healthier (RECAP)

by DJ Waldow on August 1, 2011 · 9 comments

Whole Wheat Flour Crepe with Fresh Strawberry Filling, Honey, & Fage YogurtLast week, a few dozen of us wrapped up the second 28-Day Challenge – eliminating harmful additives. Read more about the challenge in this post – 28 Straight Days: A Challenge To Eat Healthier.

The quick version of the challenge was as follows:

  • Pick 5 harmful food additives from a list of 10 (or choose your own).
  • Avoid eating those 5 additives for 28 straight days.
  • Track your progress & share with the other participants.

Reflection

This challenge was not nearly as “successful” as the first one – 100 push-ups, 250 crunches. After a bit of reflection, I have some thoughts on why participation was low & follow through was spotty.

First, the challenge was tough. While doing 100 push-ups and 250 crunches for 28 straight days was not easy, I think it just felt a bit easier than altering one’s eating habits. It’s incredible how pervasive some of these additives are in everyday foods. Try finding bread, pasta or other staples that do not have enriched flour in them. Not easy. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is also in an incredible number of common foods (Did you know: It’s the #1 ingredient in most BBQ sauces!). Personally, I was able to avoid it – for the most part – but it was not without effort. I read labels like crazy. More on label-reading below.

Second, the challenge required all to be mindful of food several times a day – breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and snacks. In comparison, you only really had to think about push-ups and crunches once a day. If you are like me, you love food. You think about it often (is that bad?). This becomes easier if you are buying your own food and making your own meals. However, once you leave the house and eat out – restaurant, friend’s house, etc – it becomes significantly harder to avoid unhealthy additives. This challenge was potentially all-consuming (no pun intended).

Third, strong leadership, coaching, and overall encouragement is critical to success. As many of you know, partway through this challenge, I lost my job (see Project Awesome). I’m not one for excuses, but my focus changed significantly once that event occurred. My #1 job has been to find a job. While that should not have impacted what I ate – or didn’t eat – it did. While it should not have prevented me from sending nightly email updates to all participants – it did. Sometimes, life gets in the way of stuff.

This Challenge Was Still a Success

I realize that I wrote (above) that this challenge was not nearly as successful as the first one. However, I take some of that back. Here’s why. Several participants (me excluded) did in fact make it through the 28 straight days. Many altered their eating habits for nearly a month. Pretty awesome.

However, the most important outcome from this challenge was awareness. My wife and I – as well as most of the participants – are acutely aware of the harmful additives that are in so many of the foods we eat every day. Kristina and I now pause before purchasing food. We stop and read labels. We choose alternate foods, ones that do not include high fructose corn syrup or nitrates or MSG. We’ve reduced our sugar consumption. We are more educated and aware about ingredients.

Participation in this challenge has forced us to find foods that don’t include harmful additives. Several participants shared recipes for “additive-free” meals. Many posted pictures of foods they found that were truly healthy. Kristina & I have discovered foods like quinoa and whole wheat pita. We now avoid white bread. We’ve realized that we don’t eat as healthy as we thought. We’re considering purchasing a 1/4 cow from a local farmer. We think twice before buying reduced or fat-free items. We read labels.

Finally, this challenge will have a long-lasting impact. For the most part, we stopped doing push-ups and crunches consistently once that 28-Day Challenge ended. That’s not the case for this challenge. We’ll continue to avoid unhealthy additives. We’ll continue to read labels. We’ll continue to be more cognizant of what food we’re consuming. We’ll continue to eat healthier than we ever have before.

What’s Next

Going forward, our intentions are not to eliminate these additives entirely. Ideally, we’d like to, but it’s not all that realistic – especially if you don’t buy/cook your own food. If I had to put a percentage on it, I’d say that we’ve reduced our “bad ingredient” consumption by 80%. Not bad.

What’s next? Well, another 28-Day Challenge, of course! Stay tuned on Wednesday for a challenge that will be relatively easy to complete and personally satisfying – for you and those around you.

I’m pumped. Are you?

Image: Whole Wheat Flour Crepe with Fresh Strawberry Filling, Honey, & Fage Yogurt (made by Kristina!)

DJ Waldow
@djwaldow

8 comments
ldpodcast
ldpodcast

I've been doing a modified paleo for about a month now- no bread, no flour- basically nothing out of a box.  It's gone better than expected.  I would urge you to try a fitbit or Nike Fuelband for the movement part, and use that as a metric of exercise- plus the Fuelband has the opportunity to sync with Path, facebook and more, helping us all to cheer you on and keep each other accountable.

Dr. Peter J. Meyers
Dr. Peter J. Meyers

Just came across your blog - I've got a 30-day challenge blog of my own, so excited to see what you're up to. It's funny how you always learn something from these challenges, even if it's not what you initially expected.

Chafic Haddad
Chafic Haddad

I just went 30 days without eating french fries.  Next month: bacon.

CarliD
CarliD

Thanks for creating the challenge! It was a great way to really focus on just one way to introduce healthier living into your daily life.  Forgetting that the 28-day challenge was over, I still find myself seriously reading every label to see what is in it.  I agree with you DJ, eating out is a challenge and so is time...life got in the way for me on several occasions...but I just kept remembering how well I did other days...so a little cheat wasn't the end of the world. 
Thanks again for pioneering this!! Can't wait to hear about the next one!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Bacon? Dude. Don't do it. I once tried to give up beer for 4 months. I lasted 4 days. Oops.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Carli! I can't tell you how much your comment means to me. If you are still taking the time to pause, to read labels, to think about what you are consuming ... the challenge was a success. 

The next one will be super-easy and VERY personally satisfying. I promise. More soon.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] If you are new to these challenges, take a few minutes to read the recap from the last one (eliminating harmful food additives) as well as the first (100 push-ups, 250 crunches). The idea behind these 28-Day Challenges is [...]

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